Could employers force workers take COVID-19 vaccine? Labor attorney explains why they can

The short answer is yes, but there is a lot to sort out.

"I have to say in 40 years I have never had a case where someone came into my office where an employee refused a vaccine or an employer required a vaccine," said Deborah Gordon, labor attorney.

But just like everything about the novel coronavirus, Gordon says that is subject to change. As soon as it becomes available to the public, some companies are looking for ways to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to their employees. Other businesses are hoping to require their workforce to get it.
What would you do?

"I would say I'm not taking it and if you fire me, fire me," said Madison Washington.
"I can understand both sides of it, but if it was me and I owned a business, I would rather work in the best interest of all my employees and their safety and protecting them," said Rashone Bryant. 

"I think they should have a choice because it is their body," said Edna Slimovic.

But can any employer legally mandate a vaccination?

"The big picture answer is, under many circumstances your employer will be able to require you to get a vaccination," Gordon said.

Gordon says there is no hard and fast law about the Covid vaccine, but like other immunizations, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission has already weighed in.  It approved mandates at workplaces where patients, clients, or customers are at high risk - but there are exceptions when it comes to religious beliefs, people with disabilities, and underlying conditions.

"I think we are going to be getting into more of a gray area - even more than this when talking about the government," Gordon said. "Right now I am talking about a private company, (if) I run a company, 'I want to make sure everyone is protected, the public is protected, I don't want to be sued, I am going to mandate vaccines.'  

"But when the government starts mandating vaccines, but when the government starts mandating things it is a little bit different because you do have some constitutional rights."

Gordon said many of her cases focus on protecting the worker, who may feel their work conditions are unsafe. 

She says it will be hard to argue a case when the employer is trying to protect their workers and those they come in contact with - especially as these businesses try to reopen during the pandemic.

"We already know people are balking at getting vaccinated, they don't trust it, and it is going to be a problem," Gordon said. "But if you want to work and your employee has a responsibility to others, you are going to have to confront the reality that you don't get to make that rule. If you are that unhappy with it or unprepared to deal with the vaccine, maybe you should look elsewhere."